While bees and butterflies may be out of sight for most of us during these winter months, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate them. And, for fans of these indispensable pollinators, we have reason to get excited thanks to a recently passed military bill.
On New Year’s Day, the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) became law when the Senate voted to override President Trump’s veto. This comes three weeks after the bill was initially approved by both chambers in mid-December. The tally for the veto override was 322-87 in the House and 81-13 in the Senate. One set of uncontentious provisions in the defense bill that now becomes law contains language on pollinator habitat (see §2827(d)(4)).
The bee- and butterfly-friendly provisions in the bill, which, by design, largely went under the radar, require the Department of Defense to abide by its own guidebook when it comes to managing military lands in a manner that protects pollinators. Additionally, the bill requires the secretary of defense to report annually on progress made in implementing its guidelines.
Finally, the bill highlights recommendations that the military should prioritize. These guidelines include adding native flowering plants, preserving known and potential pollinator nesting and overwintering sites, and eliminating or minimizing the use of pesticides in pollinator habitat.
You might be thinking: Why would pollinators be included in a military spending bill in the first place?
The connection between bees and the military has a history that precedes the recently passed defense bill. In fact, it’s something the Department of Defense has reported on previously. A Presidential Memo in 2014 called for the creation of a federal strategy to promote pollinator health and prompted a memorandum from the undersecretary of defense to follow practices that protect pollinators and their habitat. The U.S. Air Force created a guide in 2017, which laid the foundation for the 2018 DoD Pollinator Conservation Reference Guide. The recently passed NDAA cites and pulls its recommendations from that 2018 document.
The DoD guide explains that the primary objective of military natural resource programs “is to sustain, restore and modernize natural infrastructure to ensure operational capability and no net loss in the capability of DoD lands to support the military mission of the installation.”
In other words, pollinators help ensure healthy ecosystems that are easier to take care of, give training landscapes more “realistic conditions” and create buffers for local communities. Through this, pollinator conservation promotes both the military mission and long-term sustainability.
In many ways, the NDAA language on pollinators was a long time coming.
So how did pollinators make it into this year’s bill?
The road to including pollinators in the National Defense Authorization Act began with the notion that America’s public lands can play a major role in protecting pollinators, and public lands are something that the Department of Defense has a lot of -- a sizable 11 million acres.